Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The hidden costs of living in a big city

As I prepare to move in with my human beloved, I've been doing some reminiscing about moving to be with my inanimate love, New York City. I started my adult life (post-college) here in the city, and since then, I've come to realize several things. One thing that jumped out at me was the hidden costs of living in a big city. I was prepared for sky-high rents, and even to some extent for higher prices like movie tickets and groceries. I knew I'd lose the car expenses--gasoline, insurance, maintenance--so figured it would roughly even out. But there were some things I didn't expect.

The wear-and-tear cost
I go through things, particularly outerwear and bags, MUCH more frequently than I've ever done before. Every coat I've had has had to have pockets resown at least once. I reheeled a pair of boots for the first time in my life, because they were so worn down I couldn't walk in them anymore. Umbrellas actually blow inside out and must be thrown away. Before moving here, I used to get rid of bags and coats in perfect condition, and could take them to a thrift store or even consignment shop. Now, these things go in the trash in tatters and have to be replaced. Before, the only time I would ever go to a tailor was to have a brand new suit fitted to me, but now I even take my boots in to get new heels put on them.

I finally decided the cause of this is not me, but the city. I walk about six times more than I did down south, and I'm walking as much on pure cement--sidewalks, roads--as inside buildings on marble or carpet. I've discovered that wearing sneakers to work will not only save my shoes, but save me pain--I can wear heels 24 hours a day as long as I'm not stomping around outside. My coats and bags get carried around more. Instead of being tossed onto the passenger seat, they're being carried around, rubbing against other people on the train, otherwise just being WORN more.

Eating out
I was prepared for the higher costs of restaurants--and I've found that for the most part, especially by avoiding chain restaurants and fast food--I can actually eat cheaper and healthier here in the city. However, I was not prepared for how frequently I'd "need" to eat out. One of the downsides of a walking society and being away from home for most of the day is that you must carry everything with you. This automatically makes it more difficult to carry food along when I know that I'm going to need it--Mondays, for example, I have dance class after work. I do not have time to go home between work and class. I typically pack my lunch for work, so it's not that I'm against carrying food with me--but packing two meals makes things tricky. What will stay good for an entire day, rather than just a few hours? What will allow me to carry the least dirty tupperware around in the evening? What will be the lightest, considering I also have to carry books, a purse, and a bag for my dance outfits? What will hopefully not spill all over everything during my morning commute? And of course...do I really want to stay late on a Monday and eat dinner at my desk?

More often than not, I will pack in lunch and then go out to eat after work. I can eat for around $5, so it's not an exorbitant amount of money, and it also gives me a chance to sit in a restaurant and read my book with no other distractions for 45 minutes or so (treasured time, actually). I'd like to have a public area where I could do that and bring my own food, but I haven't figured out a way to make that work yet (sometimes in the summer I could go to a park, but now the studio has moved and there are none convenient).

The cost of grooming/Having a big city look
I'm rather simple in terms of style. I lean heavily towards comfort, especially in shoes, and don't have a particularly chic style. I'm ok with that. However, there's a real pressure around me to dress stylishly, to get manicures and pedicures, to be groomed and coiffed in places very few people ever see, to get highlights and lowlights and all sorts of professional assistance with my unruly hair. Then it doesn't help that I went and joined a dance troupe so that at least some of these services could be considered necessary.

I don't buy it. I have a friend who's a hairdresser who cuts my hair, and I love what she does. It's ridiculously cheap compared to a salon, in the comfort of my home or hers, plus I know who my money is going to and I feel good about that. I dye my own hair with dye purchased at a discount cosmetics store. I paint my own nails. I will treat myself to a manicure every once in a long while for a special occassion (I think I've had two) and I've never had a pedicure because the thought of someone working with my feet freaks me out. I've decided to spend my "pamper" money on things that work for me--laser hair removal and massages, twice a year during spa week.

Overall, it's clear that my money would stretch farther in a smaller metro area. The price I'm paying for rent would be more than a mortgage on a very nice house. Groceries, restaurants, and entertainment would be cheaper. A car and gas would pull it closer to even, but I still think that my counterparts earning the same salary in my hometown in Tennessee probably get to live it up a little more than I do--plus, their boots' heels aren't coming off.

*snappy transition*
I'm doing most of my Christmas shopping tonight--I'd say all, but I am not that much of an optimist. Whatever I can get online tonight, though, I'm going to. I've been bookmarking holiday deal sites for a few weeks now, and I'm going to put them to work. Most items will be shipped to my mother's house, where I'm spending the holidays, to avoid having to carry everything on a subway, bus, and plane with the rest of the holiday travellers. Overall, I think this is going to beat the Christmas that Mr. Boyfriend and I baked thousands of cookies for our families. Sure, it was cheaper than shopping but we spent literally 13 hours straight cooking, gained 30 pounds between us, and I still can't face macaroons.

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